The unauthorized disclosure inside the Justice Department set into motion what may become the last official leak investigation pursued by the nation’s first African-American attorney general.
According to his personal secretary’s account, an incensed Holder threatened to fire his entire staff unless the leaker came forward.
“Nobody in the office said a word,” she claimed. “At least getting fired would entitle us to unemployment benefits, if not whistleblower protections. I mean we’re already out of a job,” given Holder’s plans to step down after his successor is confirmed.
Under Holder, the department has relentlessly pursued leakers and the journalists that sought publish their stories. In the process, it secretly seized telephone records from the AP and tracked the movements of Fox News’ James Rosen after labeling him a “criminal co-conspirator.”
“Heads will roll at NPR,” Holder reportedly threatened. “If Terry Gross was behind this report, so help me God, I’ll chase her to the gates of hell!”
First Amendment lawyer Charles Tobin warns that such tactics “have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public.” Holder is on record calling the department’s investigations “appropriate.”
Holder’s office released a statement in which the attorney general said, “All the information fit for public consumption would’ve been covered in the official press release. There was no need for some rogue journalists to go hunt down what they considered to be important and release it on their own timeline.”
The statement continued, “If the media want a tidy summary of my law enforcement philosophy, let it go down in history as this: Protecting civil rights and civil liberties are two separate and wholly unequal goals.”